Best walks in the Cotswolds
The rollings hills, high meadows and honey-stoned villages of the Cotswolds make it a marvellous place to explore in almost any season. Discover some of the AONB's most spectacular landscapes with our guide to the best walks in the Cotswolds.
The Cotswolds is a vast landscape in southern England, spanning the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, as well as parts of Worcestershire, Somerset, Warwickshire and Wiltshire.
Covering almost 800 square miles, the Cotswolds was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966, making it the third largest protected area in England.
Within its limits, peace and charm are never hard to come by. Spend the weekend pottering around one of the area's many markets towns or picturesque villages. Book a walking holiday on the famous Cotswold Way, spend an afternoon relaxing in a classic Cotswold pub, or simply step out onto the trail and get your dose of the AONB on foot.
Dover’s Hill, Gloucestershire
3.7 miles/6 km | 2-3 hours | moderate
Dover's Hill is one of the highest points on the Cotswolds scarp. It is a breezy, knobbly, thistly hulk of a hill, gnawed by sheep and granting colossal views over the Vale of Evesham. It's also the home of the 'Cotswold Olimpick Games': an annual tournament of rural games that dates back to 1612, and is therefore older than the modern Olympics proper. Taking place at the summit, the Olimpicks includes events such as shin-kicking and tug-of-war.
Dover’s Hill is named after Robert Dover, the founder of the Games. A fine way to see it is on this (sometimes steep) National Trails-endorsed circular walk from Chipping Campden.
4.5 miles/7.2km | 3.5 hours | moderate
Prosperity is reflected in the buildings of Winchcombe, from the magnificent church with its array of alarmingly fierce gargoyles to the many grand merchants’ houses, mainly built out of warm, golden Cotswold stone.
It is a town that repays time spent wandering its streets, but for those needing something longer, it is also the perfect centre for country walking as it stands in the valley below the Cotswold escarpment. This is a walk that will take you back long before the Middle Ages to where rituals took place some 4,000 or more years ago.
7 miles/11.3km | 4 hours | moderate
Most people think of the Cotswolds as being north of the M4 – those exquisitely charming honey-stoned towns and villages often clogged with visitors.
But there's a secret Cotswolds between the motorway and Bath – it’s just as beautiful but few people visit and it feels more authentic. So here is a taste of the Cotswold escarpment, a beguiling hamlet and a perfect lost valley.
Follow our seven-mile river and woodland walk starting in Marshfield in South Gloucestershire.
4.4 miles/7km | 3 hours | moderate
The market town of Wotton-under-Edge dates back to 940 AD, when it was known as Wudetun, Saxon for ‘the wooded town’.
The strange ditches found near the woods are remains of the Iron Age fort and can’t fail to stir the senses. This, combined with the hauntingly atmospheric Ancient Ram Inn, make this market town on the Cotswolds escarpment a fine setting for a hike.
5.2 miles/8.4km | 3.5 hours | moderate
The picturesque village of Broadway, with its warm, honey-hued cottages, is the perfect base for a countryside stroll.
Take time to meander along the high street past pubs, cafés, tea rooms and shops – offering art and antiques, country clothing and gifts – then head into the Cotswold hills.
Bradford-on-Avon to Bath, Wiltshire/Somerset
9.7 miles/15.6km | 5 hours | moderate
The Kennet and Avon Canal is a huge success story; over many years it has been transformed from a derelict, watery resting place for shopping trolleys into a leisure hub.
You can walk, cycle or hire a canoe or a barge to enjoy the canal’s stunning surroundings at your own pace, and there’s also an abundance of wildlife, good fishing and fine pubs along the way.
The beauty of this walk, from the pretty Wiltshire town of Bradford-on-Avon to the Georgian splendour of Bath in Somerset, is that you can tackle it however you please. Trains run regularly between Bath Spa and Bradford, so you can walk one way and get the train back, or if you’re driving, you could park the car at a point along the canal and then walk in whichever direction you choose.
Castle Combe, Wiltshire
4.5 miles/7.2km | 3 hours | moderate
With its soft, golden Cotswold stone weavers’ cottages, medieval church and packhorse bridge, Castle Combe demonstrates all the credentials needed to play the quintessential sleepy English village in many films and TV series – from Dr Doolittle, Dick Turpin and Robin of Sherwood to the 2007 fantasy adventure film Stardust.
So it’s no surprise that producers chose the village as the backdrop to one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. In this memorable episode, Poirot attempts to escape the wickedness of the city and retires to sleepy King’s Abbot (Castle Combe) to cultivate his garden and grow the perfect marrow. But Poirot’s peace is shattered when his friend Roger Ackroyd is killed and the great detective is drawn back into the world of murder and intrigue.
Laurie Lee Wildlife Way, Gloucestershire
5 miles/ 8km | 3 hours | moderate
"The sides of the valley were rich in pasture and the crests heavily covered in beechwoods… For weeks on end the trees moved in the wind with a dry roaring that seemed a natural utterance of the landscape. In winter they ringed us with frozen spikes, and in summer they oozed over the lips of the hills like layers of thick green lava.”
The beech woods Laurie Lee describes so voluptuously in his childhood memoir Cider with Rosie still frame the Slad Valley, their lava-like appearance further enhanced when they erupt into flame-coloured hues in autumn.
They were Lee’s playground as a child, where he raced up and down the steep slopes and ate beech leaves – a “tight-folded salad of juices”. The woods are now linked by the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way, a five-mile circular trail opened in 2013 to mark the centenary of his birth.
Danny is the Section Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, responsible for commissioning, editing and writing articles that offer ideas and inspiration for exploring the UK countryside.